Linda Ross worked for Oxfam Canada for 25 years, and is now the President and CEO of the Newfoundland and Labrador Provincial Advisory Council on the Status of Women.
Linda Ross’s interest in development began when she was a 20-something CUSO volunteer teaching science at a boys’ school in Papua New Guinea. Even though her background was in biology, she was greatly inspired by what she saw and wanted to spend more time within development field. Her continued volunteer work with CUSO further cemented that feeling. Looking back she feels `privileged to have been paid to do what she did as a volunteer.
In her long career at Oxfam as the Team Leader for the Public Engagement, Advocacy and Campaigns Team, Linda travelled to Ethiopia, Cuba, Peru, Brazil, Lesotho and Zimbabwe, and everywhere she went, she was struck by the incredibly strong women she met and was impressed by the amazing work the women were doing with so few resources. It was obvious, she said, that a little bit of support from Oxfam was making a big difference in their lives.
As an avid organic gardener herself, Linda was especially interested in an Oxfam supported project in Cuba, where women and men were doing vermiculture composting with worms. Not only did this provide compost for the community gardens in the area, it also used a lot of the waste that would otherwise be sitting in the landfill. Linda said that the vermicultre project was having obvious results not only helping the women and the community, but also the environment `On one side of the road, it was like a desert. On the other side, where the compost was being used, there were green trees and lush vegetable gardens. The difference the vermiculture was making was obvious.
Throughout her travels with Oxfam, Linda has been constantly met with creative, innovative and dedicated women. In a barrio in Peru, where the children were malnourished, the women Oxfam was working with used their creativity to find a source of protein for the children.They went to the slaughter house and negotiated getting leftover blood as a source of protein. `We worked with a nutritionist, got donations of flour and sugar and made blood cookiesâ€ for the children you couldn’t tell the difference between the blood cookies and a chocolate cookie!. In a government-run hospice in Zimbabwe, where women were in the final stages of AIDS, Linda witnessed once again, the incredible resourcefulness and strength of women. The water pipes were broken so there was no water in the hospice. At night one of the women would sneak out and steal water from a nearby factory. About her experiences overseas, Linda says: `You realize how much you learn from the partners you work with. It helps to put your life into perspective.
`When I was first involved with Oxfam, we started the Youth for Social Justice program, working with high school students around liberation struggles in Central America and South Africa. The issues seemed easier for people to understand torture is wrong, and apartheid is wrong. People mobilized and spoke out against injustice. One of Linda’s greatest moments in her long career with Oxfam came as a culmination of this work: `When Nelson Mandela was freed, and he came to Canada for the first time, we learned that his plane might be landing in St. John’s to refuel at a small hangar by the airport… Oxfam organized a group of people to go out to the airport, including one of our volunteers, a doctor from South Africa who had come to Canada and was working on the anti-apartheid struggle from here. Standing outside the doors of the small, Linda and the others handed a note to one of the security guards in the hopes that it would get to Mandela. `Our note let him know that Oxfam had worked on anti-apartheid issues, and a group of us were outside hoping to meet with him. A little while later he and Winnie came out and spoke to us! I stood no more than a metre from him. Some children even had roadside flowers for Winnie. I still get choked up when I talk about it. Mandela’s first greeting in Canada came from Oxfam, and he is now still heavily involved with the organization.
A lot of people who started in the Youth for Social Justice movement have gone on to live very interesting lives and they still carry the experience and memories of what they learned at Oxfam as they run for city council, tackle environmental issues, work on policy in government or work in the arts. Oxfam has also grown and is investing a lot more time in sitting across the table from policy makers, tackling big issues such as foreign aid policy, climate change and international trade rules. It is important however for members to stay active and engaged about issues both at home and abroad. As Linda says, `Our work at Oxfam has never just been about over there’. The international, national and local are all connected. The problems we face in poverty, gender equality and climate change aren’t all that different.
After 25 years as part of Oxfam, Linda can look back and see that `there is more to life than just a job. To Linda, Oxfam has never been just a job’. She has been able to build on her first experience overseas, where her interest in development first emerged, and has been all over the world to see first hand the innovativeness and creativity of women. She has been able to be a part of and see the strengths of a whole movement for justice. More than anything as a part of Oxfam, Linda says: `We are just trying to affect change.